Sunday, 31 July 2016

31 Jul: Afternoon ride to Ashdon

John F writes: Eight riders assembled at Brookside for the 2pm ride to Ashdon Village Museum, one of our favourite tea stops. Unfortunately my camera had gone AWOL but, but from memory I was joined by Mike K, Rory, Simon G, another Simon, Stan, Sue H, and Irene. Last time I led the Ashdon ride we went clockwise so this time I chose the anti-clockwise route down to Whittlesford, where we were joined by Phil, and then took the direct route to Ickleton and into Saffron Walden by Coploe Hill, Catmere End and Audley End House.

Thence it was a steady climb on the Radwinter Road to Seward’s End and then one of my favourite routes along New House Lane to Red Oaks Hill. From here it was a left turn and a predominantly downhill ride into Ashdon, reaching the Museum three minutes ahead of the target time of 4.15pm.

Many cyclists were there including the all-day-riders and a few who had come independently. After a splendid tea we decided to take the direct route back to Cambridge via Bartlow, Linton and into Babraham via the foot/cycle bridge over the A11. My estimated distance for the whole ride was 38 miles. John Ferguson

31 Jul: Sunday ride to Thaxted, Terling and Ashdon

Nigel writes: After a rather strenuous ride last weekend, I had been looking forward to a relaxing, gentle-paced day out on the bike today. In the event it turned out to be one of our longest and fastest-paced Sunday club rides of the year so far. Fortunately that didn't prevent it being a very enjoyable and satisfying ride.

Today's all-day ride was described in the rides list as a Sunday Longer Ride. We only have a handful of these rides a year: they are described as being a little longer, and a little faster than our normal Sunday rides, and in the past they have tended to be rather niche affairs, attracting three or four riders. However there's clearly a growing interest in the club for slightly longer rides, since we had up to a dozen riders out today, all riding rather faster than our normal moderate pace.


Our leader today was Alex, and when I arrived at Brookside just before today's 9am start I found him accompanied by Mike P, Eva, Ray, Rupert, Camille, newcomer Ned and Greg. That's nine in total. Our morning coffee stop was in Thaxted, and since that is a good 24 miles from Brookside Alex led us there by a fairly direct route. We made our way south out of Cambridge to Great SHelford, taking the direct route along Trumpington and Shelford roads rather than our more usual but slightly longer route via the busway.

In Great Shelford we rejoined our usual route south, continuing through Little Shelford, Whittlesford and Duxford to Ickleton. It became apparent right from the start that the pace today would be brisk, with several riders setting a strong pace at the front. However we had quite a strong group today, with no-one trailing at the back.

Today was a fine warm day, rather cloudy but quite bright with long spells of warm sunshine, particularly in the morning: excellent weather for a bike ride. A light but noticeable wind blew steadily from the west for the whole day, which gave us a bit of a tailwind in the morning, and a noticeable headwind on the way home.

We climbed Coploe Hill, with Alex breaking with tradition by riding on over the summit without stopping: he knew we had a long way to go today, and wanted to get us to coffee as quickly as possible.

Climbing Coploe Hill

Half-way up the hill we met Dave W coming towards us: he promptly turned around and joined us.

Climbing Coploe Hill

Climbing Coploe Hill

At the cross-roads beyond we turned left and climbed up "Heavy Hill" before dropping back down to Littlebury. From there we followed the B1383 for a couple of km to Audley End before turning east to Saffron Walden.

Climbing Heavy Hill towards Littlebury

Climbing Heavy Hill towards Littlebury

By now we were riding so fast that I wondered whether the people at the front were under the impression that we were stopping there for coffee, and so were tiring themselves out in expectation of an extended stop. However my suspicion was clearly mistaken, since when we turned south onto the Debden Road and began to leave Saffron Walden behind their brisk pace continued.

We followed the Debden Road all the way to Debden and continued to Thaxted, where we stopped for coffee and cake at Parrishes Restaurant. It was 10.45am. Outside the cafe we found Adrian and Doug, and whilst we there we were joined by Edmund, Eva, Susan and Joseph.


After cofffe we set off once more towards our lunch stop in Terling, a tiny village south of Braintree. With Edmund, Eva, Susan and Joseph joining our group, and (very unusually) no-one leaving it, we were now a group of twelve, though somehow we managed to depart without Joseph and he ended up making his way to lunch on his own.

Setting off after coffee in Thaxted

With Terling being a relatively distant lunch stop Alex took us there by a fairly direct route: east to Great Bardfield, south to Great Saling and then south-east along more unfamilar roads to Terling.

Speeding along towards lunch in Terling

We arrived at Terling at about 12.45pm, with Joseph rejoining us at about the same time. Our lunch stop was the Owl's Hill Tea Room. I think this was the first time that any of us had been here, and when we arrived it turned out to be a charming little cottage in the middle of the village, with a very simple (but perfectly adequate) menu of sandwiches. They seemed well-organised efficient (it's always reassuring to have your name taken when you order) but the food took quite a long time to arrive, perhaps because they were fairly busy and we were quite a large group. Nevertheless it was a very pleasant place, and quite cycle-friendly, with cycle tubes and a pump available.

Lunch at Owl's Hill Tea Room. Terling

After lunch Alex rounded us up for the next stage of the ride which would take us back north to our afternoon tea stop in Ashdon.

Setting off after lunch

We were now riding into a headwind, but that didn't slow down the pace. Unusually it wasn't just one or two strong riders at the front who were setting the pace: everyone seemed to be riding more quickly than normal.

The peloton

Alex's route north (which was carefully contrived to avoid intersecting with our southward soute) took us through Rayne and Shalford to Finchingfield, and from there via Radwinter to Ashdon. Somewhere between Shalford and Finchingfield we discovered that we'd lost our leader, and only half the group was with us. A phone call to Alex quickly established that Mike P had sustained a puncture, and Alex and the rest of the group was keeping him company whilst he fixed it.

I continued on with the front group, arriving for tea at the Ashdon Village Museum at 3.45pm. The place seems to have had a bit of a makeover, but the cafe was as delightful as ever. After about ten minutes we were joined by Alex and the remainder of the group, and we spent a very pleassnt 45 minutes or so sitting outside with pots of tea and plates of excellent cake, with a moist frangipane tart proving particularly popular. Already at the cafe was Mike S, who joined us for a while before setting off home on his own.

Afternoon tea at the Ashdon Museum

The afternoon ride arrived just before we set off back to Cambridge. We left them to enjoy their tea and rode back via Bartlow, a short climb to Balsham, and a long, fast descent to Fulbourn. We continued into Cambridge via the Old Drift, Church End and The Tins before various riders started peeling off along Mill Road. I arrived home at 5.45pm, having cycled 139km (86 miles), probably our longest Sunday ride this year. Nigel Deakin

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Thursday, 28 July 2016

28 Jul: Thursday ride to Withersfield and Clare

Edward writes: The unpleasant clammy heat of the last few days had abated by this morning and the thirteen members at Hauxton and the ten from Brookside met in much more pleasant conditions, at least for cycling. The weather forecast suggested that rain would have arrived by the afternoon, although, depending on where you looked, the timing of this was a bit variable. Today’s leaders were David W at Hauxton and Peter Wilson from Brookside.

David’s route took us out to Whittlesford and onto the cycleway to Sawston where we met Peter Woodward who promptly turned round and retraced his steps with us back to Balsham, which on this occasion took us over the farm track to Abington, followed by the two mile climb from Hildersham.


Bourn Bridge Road, Abington

During the morning light clouds started to appear but they didn’t appear to be a prelude to any rain, and there was very little wind to be of any concern. From Balsham we descended and climbed again to West Wickham, then out to Wratting Common.


Balsham-West Wickham

We then turned south-easterly along Skipper’s Lane which brought us into Bradman’s at Withersfield.

Coffee at Bradman’s, Withersfield

Apparently this pub was used as a coffee or lunch stop some years back but this is only the second time in recent years that the Thursday riders have used it. As the name suggests it has association with the great Don’s family whose uncle was a previous landlord. When the family emigrated to Australia the family name was Bradnam and the name still exists in the village, but in the course of history the letters were transposed ending up as Bradman. As you would expect there is a lot of cricket memorabilia to be seen and one of the bars is to be renamed the Bodyline Bar - sure to appeal to visiting Australians! After our last visit where many thought it expensive this time the landlord agreed to provide free refills of coffee and most people agreed that this was a satisfactory arrangement.

Leaving Withersfield

Leaving Withersfield

During coffee it was decided that as some cafes in Cavendish, our original destination, were not open on Thursdays we should change our lunch stop to Clare. After coffee there was the usual exchange of personnel and when we started again it was still necessary to go in two groups. This took us out to Great Wratting where we crossed the A143 to Kedington and Brockley Green which caused our group to pause and consider a loop as by now we were close to Clare and would have meant arriving before 12.30 pm.


Thus it was that we set off towards Hundon and this took us on very quiet, lovely country lanes before arriving on the B1063 for the last four miles, mostly downhill, into Clare. It’s quite possible that the leading group took a similar diversion, but we all ended up at the country park where most, if not all of the group, ate their packed lunches.

Preparing to leave Clare

This was all very pleasant but by about 1.30 pm gathering clouds overhead seemed to suggest that rain was more than a possibility and this caused most to don their waterproof tops. As in often the case this caused a bit of indecision, should we go for tea or go home and if so which way? Finally minds were made up, decisions taken, and we left Clare to head for Ashen but before we had gone a mile the rain had stopped, and so did we to take off our waterproofs. Ridgewell came next and then Stambourne where more rain meant waterproofs on again, but before another mile, and what a surprise, the rain stopped again. Steeple Bumpstead was followed by Helions Bumpstead and then Castle Camps. This is all familiar territory for rides returning from this part of Suffolk and once through Castle Camps it was more or less all downhill through Bartlow to Linton. At Hildersham we chose the route through the village past Great Abington and on to the A505 cycleway bringing us back to Babraham, Sawston, Stapleford and Great Shelford. This was a ride of 62 miles and as usual our leaders, plus some input from Rupert, did us proud. Edward Elmer

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Wednesday, 27 July 2016

27 Jul: Evening ride to Newton

Nigel writes: My wheelmates on tonight's ride were Gareth, Ray, Dmitris, Neil, Sven and Camille. It was a bright, sunny evening and at the start of the ride the temperature was a warm and very agreeable 22C. Our ride today would be slightly shorter than normal as by special request we would be visiting the Queen's head in Newton, arriving half an hour earlier than usual to allow us to buy food from a visiting "food truck". However, since we had quite a fast group tonight we were still able to have a pretty full ride despite the reduced time available.


We set off south from Brookside, following our usual route along the busway and DNA path to Great Shelford before continuing along roads to Little Shelford, Whittlesford and Duxford. Ray was proudly sporting a brand new bike that he had collected earlier today, and his pace today was noticeably brisker than before.

Coploe Hill

We reached the Ickleton by about 7.15pm; that was noticeably earlier than usual, and meant that we had sufficient time to continue to the top of Coploe Hill before turning right onto Royston Lane.

Royston Lane

Royston Lane was as pleasant and enjoyable as always. The road surface is rather bumpy in places, but I don't find that a problem on evening rides as it slows the pace down and allows us to enjoy the fine views on this scenic rollercoaster.

Royston Lane (Photo: Gareth Rees)

Royston Lane (Photo: Gareth Rees)

Royston Lane ends at Chrishall Grange, where the hills end. Some flatter lanes (and a crossing of the A505) brought us to Fowlmere after which a short run along the B1369 brought us to Newton.

We arrived in Newton at just after 8pm and stopped for drinks and food at The Queen's Head. Outside we found Yasmin was there with her son Oscar, who had cycled there directly. As expected there was a food truck parked nearby from Scrimshaw's Guerrilla Kitchen, serving bao (steamed buns) with various fillings. Since everything was cooked to order and there was quite a long wait before my order was ready, but when it eventually arrived it was delicious. They were clearly a bit overwhelmed, however, and after a while stopped taking orders. This meant that Sven, Neil and Dimitris missed out on the "guerilla" food and had to order food from the pub itself.

Waiting for food at The Queens' Head, Newton

Rob, the landlord, came out to speak to us and I took the opportunity to applaud the new cycle parking they had installed earlier in the summer. Apparently this is a temporary loan from the County Council but and will be replaced by permanent Sheffield stands when they receive planning permission.

Excellent temporary cycle parking at The Queens' Head, Newton

After spending about an hour standing outside the pub we set off back to Cambridge via the Shelfords, the DNA path and the busway, with Ray setting a brisk pace at the front. After an enjoyable ride back I arrived home at 9.30pm, having cycled 48km (30 miles). Nigel Deakin

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Sunday, 24 July 2016

23/24 Jul: The Three Coasts 600km Audax

Nigel writes: Just over half a year ago I made a New Year Resolution for 2016: to ride further than I have ever cycled before by completing a 300km Audax. Little did I know that by July I would have completed a ride twice as long as that: the "Three Coasts" 600km Audax.

This event was based at a community centre in the village of Mytholmroyd, about 8km west of Halfax in West Yorkshire, and was organised (excellently) by Calderdale CTC. Whereas the Bryan Chapman Memorial 600 that Alex rode in May is a simple loop from one end of Wales to the other, the Three Coasts 600 is a figure-of-eight. The ride starts at 6am on the Saturday morning and heads east, visiting the east coast at Bridlington (the "first coast") before taking a big loop back to Mytholmroyd. This is reached in the small hours of Saturday night, after having ridden almost two-thirds of the total distance. The ride then continues to the west coast at Blackpool (the "second coast"), looping back to Calderdale for a final small loop via Hollingsworth Lake (the "third coast") before arriving back at Mytholmroyd on Sunday evening by 10pm at the latest.

Overview of route. More detailed map below

By East Anglian standards it's quite a hilly course (the first AAA-rated route I have attempted), particularly on the second day when the return from the west coast crosses the edge of the Forest of Bowland before finishing with a 200m climb followed by an 8km descent (supposedly the longest continuous descent in England) back to Mytholmroyd.

This route has the attraction of returning to base at exactly the time when you're in need of a quick sleep before setting off again, and this was the main reason I chose it for my first ever 600. The BCM 600 (which I missed) also has a sleep stop at the same point in the ride, but many other 600s (such as the forthcoming East Anglian Flatlands 600 in September) offer nothing.

I spent the night before the ride at HQ, sleeping rather uncomfortably on a camp bed I had brought with me. However after a 5am breakfast and a cold shower I was ready for the 6am departure. There were 38 riders in total, half of them attempting the Three Coasts 600 like me, and half attempting a slightly less hilly variant called the East and West Coasts 600.

6am on Saturday: Preparing to set off from Mytholmroyd Community Centre

For the first two hours we were riding along fairly major urban roads through the West Yorkshire conurbation, passing through places like Sowerby Bridge, Brighouse and Dewsbury that I probably wouldn't have been able to place on a map before. It was all rather urban, and the road surface was very worn-out and bumpy almost all the way, but there were very few cars around and apart from repeatedly having to dodge potholes we didn't have any problems. The pace of the other riders was faster than I had expected but I assumed they knew what they were doing and I found it fairly easy to keep up with them.

The temperature was warm right from the start, and after about an hour I removed my armwarmers, never to replace them at any point in the entire ride.

There had been a quick roadside control in Mirfield (23km), where someone in a bus shelter had stuck a label on my brevet card, but our first proper stop was at a cafe in Castleford (50km) where I obtained another sticker for my brevet, ate a huge bacon roll, and topped up my water bottles.

First cafe stop in Castleford, after 50km

Castleford was essentially our last town in the West Yorkshire conurbation, and after two hours on the road we at last began to emerge into open countryside.

River Aire at Castleford

We were now riding north-east towards the east coast at Bridlington, pausing along the way in Pocklington to obtain a receipt at the petrol station and further along at the little village of Langtoft where there was an "info" control where I had to answer the question on my brevet card.

Although I had been riding with a group as far as Castleford, after leaving the cafe on my own I found myself riding solo. I thought this was just as well as I didn't wanted to be drawn into riding at an unsustainable pace. Instead I cycled on at about 25km/h which I had previously decided would be more than adequate to get me round in time. However after about an hour (and half-way to Pocklington) I was overtaken by another rider (Malcolm from Newport, Shropshire), and as he seemed to be going just slightly faster than me I politely asked him whether I could tag along behind. He readily agreed and my pace quickened to nearer 30km/h for long periods. I periodically took a turn at the front but he was definitely doing most of the pulling, and we stuck together over the Yorkshire Wolds to Bridlington and, it turned out, for most of the rest of the day.

We reached Bridlington (158km) at 1pm exactly and stopped for lunch at the designated control stop, the Boathouse Cafe. A bicycle mounted above the side passage showed that this was clearly a well-established destination for visiting cyclists.

Saturday lunch in Bridlington after 158km

Thanks to Malcolm's assistance I was well ahead of schedule: in my (deliberately pessimistic) plan for the ride I had expected to be there nearly an hour later. I knew I had plenty of time for a proper sit-down lunch: a very inexpensive meal of baked potato with baked beans followed by apple pie and ice cream, which I enjoyed in the company of several other riders in the garden behind the cafe.

Saturday lunch in Bridlington

After lunch I persuaded Malcolm to join me for a brief diversion to the sea front (about 400m beyond the cafe) and an opportunity to have our photograph taken on the "first coast" of the ride.

Nigel and Malcolm on the "first coast" at Bridlington

We then set off west towards Malton. We were now riding along a succession of very quiet lanes; the quietest part of the ride so far. There was virtually no wind today, so with Malcolm once again setting a satisfyingly-brisk pace we made good progress and arrived at Malton (204km) at 3.40pm. This was another control, so we stopped at Morrisons, bought yet more food, and ate it standing outside with a group of other audaxers. I was now exactly one-third of the way round the whole route, though with the route effectively divided into two by an overnight sleep stop I was more conscious that we were more than half-way round today's part of the ride.

We continued west from Malton to Thirsk, passing through the scenic, wooded, Howardian Hills along the way. I don't think I had heard of the Howardian Hills before: they take their name from nearby Castle Howard and form a wooded and parklike landscape that is quite different from the North York Moors a short distance further north.

After another quick info control we arrived in Thirsk. This wasn't a control, but our routesheet warned us that this was the last opportunity for food for a long time, so Malcolm and I stopped at Tesco to find, once again, a gaggle of other Audaxers clustered outside in the warm early-evening sunshine.

Food stop at Tesco, Thirsk after 247km

I wasn't especially hungry but my food strategy was to eat little and often, and I managed to consume a pasta salad before Malcolm and I set off once more. We were joined by a third rider - Rob from Portsmouth - who accompanied Malcolm and me for the remainder of the evening.

A few kilometres west of Thirsk we paused briefly for another info control (at Skipton-on-Swale, 253km). This was literally a turning point in the ride, since here we turned south, back towards the West Yorkshire conurbation and our sleep stop in Mytholmroyd. Rob was another fast rider, possibly slightly faster than Malcolm, so although the low sun and long shadows brought on a relaxed, mellow mood our pace remained fairly brisk. We had been riding through beautiful, quiet lanes all afternoon, and continued to do so for the next couple of hours.

Toll bridge over the River Ure at Aldwark

We were now riding south, passing midway between York to our east and Harrogate to our west, and the villages we passed through became increasingly prosperous and impressive.

We reached Tadcaster at 8.40pm, about half an hour before sunset. The town bridge over the River Wharf was closed for repairs following winter flood damage, but our routesheet already reflected this and diverted us over a temporary footbridge nearby.

Temporary footbridge over the River Wharf at Tadcaster, during the closure of the town bridge. It wasn't the only time I had to get off and walk...

We paused on the main street to rest and eat some of the food we'd bought earlier, not far from the huge John Smith's brewery that dominates the town. Just before we set off again I decided to take a couple of capsules of what Alex B calls "vitamin I" (ibuprofen). On my last big ride I'd had a bit of trouble from my right knee, and had wondered whether it would be a problem on this one. So far today it hadn't, but I'd had a couple of slight twinges and I thought I might as well take a dose of painkiller before it became a problem. In the event, I had no further problems for the remainder of the weekend.

High Street, Tadcaster: eerily deserted on a Saturday evening

We continued south, with Rob continuing to lead our group of three at a fairly fast pace. Somewhat to my surprise I was able to keep up and didn't feel the need to drop off the back. In fact the only time I dropped back was on the approach to Castleford. By now the sun had set and it had became completely dark. We were close to the West Yorkshire conurbation and the road surface had deteriorated. I decided I didn't have the nerve to draft Rob downhill at 40km/h when I couldn't see the road surface ahead, so I dropped back and followed a few metres behind.

We'd had a control in Castleford on the way out, and we had a control in Castleford on the way back, this time at a 24h filling station just before the Aire bridge. In my original plan for the ride I'd expected to reach here at 1am, when I'd no doubt have had to conduct business with the attendant at the "night window". However it was still only 10pm and the shop was still open, so we could go inside, get a cup of coffee, and use the toilets. When we came outside and stepped out of the chill of the air-conditioning, we were all struck by how warm and humid the outside air still was.

Final control of Saturday evening at Castleford

We were joined by three or four other Audaxers for the final 50km or so back to Mytholmroyd, following the reverse of our earlier route out. I had expected this night-time part of the ride to be a solitary, slow trudge through the darkness and so to cheer me up I had brought a portable bluetooth loudspeaker and a playlist of lively 1970's and 1980's popular music.

My bluetooth speaker fitted nicely on my top tube

In fact I had plenty of company and was feeling stronger than I expected, but since I had lugged a 300g loudspeaker all this way I decided that I might as well use it. I turned it on at a moderate level and we set off. In an instinctive reaction my pace quickened and for the first few kilometres I found myself at the front, leading our small train into the semi-urban fringes of the conurbation to low-volume ABBA.

We arrived back at Mytholmroyd Community Centre two and a half hours later at 12.45am, having completed 375km, slightly less than two-thirds of the total distance. I went in, got my brevet card stamped, and sat down. A solicitous volunteer immediately offered me a choice of three different hot meals, all clearly selected to appeal to weary audaxers and be easy to digest. I chose a portion of cottage pie followed by a bowl of bread and butter pudding, both of which went down easily.

I knew my camp bed was waiting for me upstairs, but I didn't go there straightaway as there was no point lying down if I wasn't sure I was going to fall asleep immediately. So I spent half an hour showering, refilling my water bottles, preparing my bike for the next part of the ride and digesting my dinner before settling down to sleep at 2am. When I had arrived, Chris the organiser had asked me what time I wished to be woken up (since with different people getting up at different times you didn't want people using alarm clocks) and I had stated 5am. My original plan had been to set off at 6am, and I saw no reason to change it.

My camp bed beside the pool table at Mytholmroyd Community Centre

I fell asleep instantly and awoke two hours later at 4am. After dozing for a while I decided I wasn't going to go back to sleep and so got up, had a bowl of museli and a cup of tea, and set off once more on the bike, heading west towards Lancashire this time. It was 5.20am.

Although I had started this section with Malcolm we got separated at the first ATM control in Todmorden (385km) and I found myself riding on my own. A shower, a change of clothes, two hours sleep and a lot of food meant I felt quite fresh, but I quickly discovered that although my legs weren't hurting, they weren't giving me much power and I found myself cycling at less than 20 km/h, much slower than I had been riding yesterday. However I reassured myself that even at this slow speed I would almost certainly be able to finish the remaining 226km within the remaining 16 hours, and carried slowly on in a low gear towards Burnley.

The weather today was quite different to the previous day: distinctly dull and overcast, with rain forecast for much of the day. However it was still quite warm, and when the rain arrived it was rarely very heavy and passed over quickly, and I probably didn't wear my rain jacket for more than an hour in total over the entire day.

After a while a small group of audaxers caught up with me and I took the opportunity to increase my pace through the rather hilly outskirts of Burnley and on to the village of Whalley. There I turned left, whilst everyone else in the group turned right. This was because they were taking a different route to me, the slightly less hilly "East and West Coasts 600".

I stopped at the next town west, Longridge, and after a visit into the co-op for food, and ten minutes sitting down, I carried on, feeling rather stronger and faster now, towards an info control in the tiny village of Whitechapel (437km). Whilst I was stopped there, trying to work out the correct answer to the question on the brevet card, Rob from Portsmouth arrived and we rode on together to the next control, a filling station in Fulwood (448km) on the northern edge of Preston. Here we found several other audaxers, and after I'd had a cup of coffee from the "Costa Express" machine and a pastry we carried on together in a larger group.

However I quickly became separated at some traffic signals and for the final 20km into Blackpool I was riding on my own. I arrived at the North Pier at 10.47am. This was another control but it was just an "info", so I didn't buy anything and simply answered the question on the brevet card and got another audaxer to take a photo of me to celebrate having crossed from coast to coast in about 22 hours.

Sunday morning on the "second coast" at Blackpool

Then I carried on, heading north-east out of Blackpool, across the River Fylde and then north towards my next control at Glasson Dock on the Lune Estuary south of Lancaster.

Crossing the River Wyre north of Blackpool

This took me across The Fylde, a very flat coastal plain which meant this was easily the easiest part of the ride so far. Along this section I was caught up by several riders who I hadn't seen before. One of them asked how I was doing, confirmed that I was "doing the six", and explained that he was riding the Good Companions 200km Audax, which had departed from Mytholmroyd Community centre at 8.30am (i.e. almost three hours after me) and was following exactly the same route as I was. The name of the event reflects its purpose, which is to provide some company (and perhaps an occasional tow) to the weary riders on the 600. I accepted the offer of a tow, but after a while I decided the pace was unsustainably fast for me and so I gave my thanks and dropped back, completing the final few kilometres to Glasson Dock on my own.

The Fylde Coast is very flat

I arrived at Glasson Dock (510km) at 12.35 and stopped at the designated control point, the "Lantern o'er Lune" cafe.

Glasson Dock

I was well ahead of my original plan, though this was mainly because I had set off from Mytholmroyd earlier than originally planned. The cafe was full of Audaxers on the 200 as well as on both 600s and I went in to join them for a leisurely lunch.

Sunday lunch at "Lantern o'er Lune" at Glasson Dock

I had ordered quite a large meal (a plate of sausages and mash) and was still eating when the others started getting ready to set off again. However I was happy to linger: I was aware that the final 90km of the ride would be tougher than anything that had gone before, and intended to ride them at my own pace. This would be the hilliest stage of the whole ride, and the main reason why it is AAA-rated. But it was only 2pm and so I had a full eight hours left: I could afford to take it slowly, and if I got too tired I could simply stop and rest.

After setting off again on my own it wasn't long before the climbing started with the route crossing Bleasdale Moor on the edge of the Forest of Bowland. This was a beautiful, quiet landscape of open moorland and sheep, quite different from anything I had ridden through up to now.

Bleasdale Moor in the Forest of Bowland

The price for the beautiful scenery was a succession of fairly long, fairly steep climbs, though only the first of these was steep enough to warrant an arrow marking on the OS map. A combination of tired legs and not-particularly-low gears meant I had to climb these very slowly, pausing every few minutes to allow my legs to recover before starting again. I could see a pair of audaxers ahead of me; they didn't seem to be going much faster then I was. Nevertheless I was glad that I was riding this part of the route on my own and could take it at a speed that suited me.

A pair of audaxers ahead of me on Bleasdale Moor

After a while I left the moorland behind but the undulations continued and there was one further OS-arrow-rated climb before things became easier and I dropped down to the village of Chipping.

Approaching Chipping towards the end of the most scenic part of the whole ride

A flock of "Good Companions" passed me and checked I was OK. I declined the offer of a tow, pointing out that it didn't help much when going uphill, but I took the opportunity to increase my pace and ride with them for a while before dropping back and leaving them to speed them off ahead to our next control in the village of Whalley. It was quite fun to ride with these energetic younger riders; they knew I had cycled over 500km so I didn't feel I had anything to prove. Indeed they were probably surprised I could achieve any degree of speed at all.

I was interested by the speed in which they took some of the descents. Clearly they're much more used to riding downhill at speed than me, partly because they all ride with racing clubs, and partly because we don't have many hills near Cambridge. However I was surprised to find myself hitting the brakes on a number of downhill sections because I didn't dare to ride as fast as they did. One reason was the bike: before today I had considered my Trek Domaine as being extremely sure-footed at speed, but today when my speed approached 50km I felt an alarming oscillation at the back of the bike that I had not experienced before, perhaps due to my seatpost bag being more heavily loaded then normal.

I stopped in Whalley (554km) to "control" at the Spar store. It was 4pm. The "good companions" were standing outside, and after going in to buy a banana milkshake and something to eat I chatted with them for several minutes. As the only "600-er" in the vicinity I was automatically accorded a degree of respect and admiration, which was rather nice. I was told that the locals insist that the name of their village is pronounced "War-ley", and if they ever overhear someone calling it "Wally" they will correct you.

From Whalley back to Todmorden we were following the reverse of the route we had taken in the morning, an undulating run along main roads round the edge of Burnley and then down towards Todmorden. I rode with the good companions for about half an hour before they disappeared off into the distance.

Please read carefully

This route had been very quiet in the early morning, but in the late afternoon it was quite busy. It also started to rain steadily and the combination of rain, busy traffic and - on the descent into Todmorden - the need to constantly crash through potholes might have made this a rather depressing trudge if it had not been for the knowledge that I didn't have far to go.

Todmorden was only half an hour from Mytholmroyd but instead of heading directly back I turned right towards Littleborough for a final short loop via the "third coast" at Hollingworth Lake.

Hollingworth Lake, Littleborough: the "third coast"

The final control at the Hollingworth Lake Visitor Centre was staffed by a volunteer from Calderdale CTC at a table laden with home-made cakes and biscuits.

Final control at Hollingworth Lake

A group of Good Companions was there attending to a puncture, so I left them there and set off on my own for the final, and biggest, climb of the day. This involved climbing about 200m over a distance of about 3km to the top of Blackstone Edge. With a gradient of around 6% this wasn't especially steep, but with my legs in their current state my lowest gear wasn't quite low enough and once again I found it necessary to stop every couple of minutes on the way up. It was drizzling steadily but at this point, so close to the finish, I hardly noticed.

The final climb up to Blackstone Edge before the last long descent

There's not much at the top: just open moorland, Blackstone Reservoir, a pub, and a left turn onto Cragg Vale Road which offers the reward of a long 8km descent all the way down to Mytholmroyd. Apparently this is the longest continuous descent in England. The rain had now stopped, and with my Garmin now showing 599km, I switched on my bluetooth speaker and turned on the music. As I started to accelerate I glanced down. My distance was now 600km. I found myself smiling, and if I'd been able to whoop, I would have whooped.

Minutes later I arrived at Mytholmroyd Community Centre. I wheeled my bike into the entrance and strode into the main room to present my brevet card to Chris the organiser. He looked at his watch to check the time: 7.28pm. I had completed 607 km (the official distance) in just under 37.5 hours.

Survivors at the finish

This was my longest ride ever, only my second ride to have gone very much over 200km, and it was a very enjoyable and satisfying experience. I'm obviously extremely pleased to have completed the ride without any problems, well within the time limit and quite a lot faster than I had expected. I chose this particular event because of the return to base after 375km for a food and sleep stop. Although that feels slightly less "pure" than a simple loop like The Flatlands 600, I think it was a good choice for a first 600 as it divided the ride into two, both practically and psychologically, though it did have the consequence that I didn't have very much night riding (and I do like night riding).

Buddying up with Malcolm for most of the first day (and Rob for the later part of that day) made a huge difference, as I told them at the time. Since I was far from home and not riding with anyone I knew there was a danger that I would end up trudging round the whole route on my own, which would be slow as well as being a bit lonely. In the event I had plenty of tows, and plenty of company on both days, as well as some pleasant long stretches riding solo as well.

The Three Coasts 600 is a great route, and visiting both east and west coasts in the same ride was very satisfying. The organisation by Chris Crossland was excellent.

I knew there'd be quite a lot of gritty urban riding in the middle, though since most of this was very early or very late I never had any problem with traffic - and it was very interesting to spend time in a completely unfamiliar part of the country. What I hadn't expected was quite how poor the road surfaces were: mile after mile of completely worn-out roads. I was also surprised that I seemed to be the only person complaining about this: is the rest of the country really like this? It certainly makes me see the roads of Cambridgeshire, Essex and Suffolk in a more positive light.

Completed brevet card

My total distance, according to my Garmin, was 609.4km, 378.6 miles. Nigel Deakin

Download GPS track (GPX).